Too many D.C. children and families have too little to show for city’s economic boom

Our city’s economy is booming, steadily adding jobs during the last decade, including during most months of the recession.

Because of this economic boom, median family incomes have risen in D.C. – up 12 percent in the last decade, compared to a decrease of 4 percent in the U.S.

Within this increasing prosperity, however, too many of our city’s children and families have been falling behind, as DC Action for Children learned while compiling data on 20 indicators of child and family health and well-being that we released today.

Our data snapshots of all eight city wards show that the child poverty rate has barely changed. In 2010, 30 percent of the city’s children were living in families with income at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty line (about $22,000 for a family of four), compared to 32 percent in 2000. In Wards 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8, more than one-quarter and up to one-half of children are living in families with income below 100 percent of the federal poverty line.

This work has also confirmed for us just how much where children live within the city affects how they live, including their health and educational success. Children grow up in neighborhoods, and many neighborhood factors contribute to how well children are prepared to learn and become successful adults.

While many city-wide indicators show gains in child health and well-being, overall numbers do not tell the complete story:

•    Despite a small city-wide decline, child poverty is up in Wards 7 (from 37 to 40 percent) and Ward 8 (from 47 to 48 percent) and unchanged in Ward 5 (28 percent).

•    Half of the city’s wards (Wards 2, 3, 4 and 6) experienced increases in the number of children under 5, despite an overall lack of growth in the city’s under 5 population in the last decade.

•    Birth rates were up in nearly every ward, with Ward 4 experiencing the most significant growth – from 66.6 births per 1,000 women (ages 15-44) to 96.6 births. Only Ward 2 had a decrease in birth rates over the decade.

•    Despite an overall decrease in infant mortality in the city (from 11.9 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 10.9 in 2008), rates are up in five of the city’s wards – Wards 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8.

So how might we best build on the strengths and address the challenges revealed in the snapshots? We are recommending the following five strategies:

•    Begin planning now for a new cohort of middle school students we can expect in 10 years, given increasing birth rates.

•    Ensure that eligibility for public benefits and work supports as finely tuned as possible to respond to changes in poverty and need.

•    Focus on neighborhood-level and place-based solutions to neighborhood-level and place-based problems so all children can thrive.

•    Invest in programs to improve the health of women of child-bearing age to increase positive birth outcomes.

•    Continue to focus attention on the needs of children in city policy discussions and budget negotiations.

What would you recommend? We look forward to hearing your ideas about how D.C.’s budget and policy decisions should reflect what we have learned in our KIDS COUNT research.

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